Testing and Ethics, Part 2

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After I wrote this post about the testing code of ethics in NC, a few parents and teachers contacted me about practices in some districts. It appears that one of the big sticks being used by districts to discourage parents from refusing to test is AIG placement. This is in opposition the state testing code of ethics that seems to define using test scores to make such decisions as unethical. The NC Academically or Intellectually Gifted Program Standards specially states “measures that reveal student aptitude, student achievement, or potential to achieve” are to be used including “both non-traditional and traditional measures that are based on current theory and research” that “respond to traditionally under-represented populations…including students who are culturally/ethnically diverse, economically disadvantaged, English language learners, highly gifted, and twice-exceptional.” Despite the all-important OR in the statement on measures, a review of school district AIG plans demonstrates a majority include EOG scores as a possible pathway to identification and some as a required part of placement. That would mean that a family that refuses to take EOG test would be considered ineligible for AIG placement in that district as the student who does not test is given a score of 1.

This is problematic for other reasons. State EOG tests are supposed to measure student mastery of a set of standards, not necessarily academic achievement in general. We are also repeatedly told that EOG scores are design to hold teachers accountable and measure the ability of teachers, yet the use of such scores for AIG identification would point to student test scores as a result of innate student ability, not teacher instruction. We also know that the tests are culturally biased and have the greatest correlation to student poverty level. That would place using EOG scores as an identification marker in direct opposition to the state mandate that districts must take measures to identify traditionally under-represented students.

Now we get to the worst part. Universal screening is expensive and teacher recommendations can be problematic. So it makes some sense that districts would take advantage of EOG data as a tool for targeting AIG screening. However, that data can take months to be compiled and disaggregated. From multiple reliable sources, it appears that some districts in the state are also using EVAAS data as a short cut to help them to target students for identification.

In other words, some districts are using the predicted student test scores produced by a black box algorithm (that statistical experts have expressed grave concerns about) to help identify student giftedness. Not an actual student score, but one predicted by the software. I can’t think of a better example of how far down the rabbit hole the standardized testing obsession has taken us, or a better example of highly unethical testing practices.

To be clear, there is no evidence that EVAAS data is being used in isolation or without multiple paths to AIG identification. However, in some cases those other paths can place the burden on the family to pay for student testing. On the other hand, many NC districts actually have put in place innovative practices that ensure equity and identification of under-represented groups. Moving forward, it is time for North Carolina to provide guidance on how both actual EOG test scores and EVAAS predictions should and should not be used in student AIG placement.

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